Budget is ‘unhelpful and unacceptable’

Last week’s Scottish Government budget has been greeted with disappointment across the Highlands and Islands with cuts faced not only by local authorities but also key public bodies within the region.

Friday, 17th December 2021, 12:55 pm
Updated Friday, 17th December 2021, 1:14 pm
HIE and council were able to support key infrastructure projects likes roads and causeways, but they have been stripped of that opportunity through stringent budget cuts. Pic: Nick Smith

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar leader, Roddie Mackay, told the Gazette: “For local authorities, the Budget is unhelpful and unacceptable. The whole local government family across Scotland is united on this, including SNP-run councils.

“We have been given neither the funding nor the flexibility that we asked for, with 87 per cent of the allocation ring-fenced. It leaves very little to pursue our own priorities that reflect island circumstances.

“It is ironic that politicians who are always complaining about power grabs and the UK Government not giving them enough money to do what they like with continue to treat Scotland’s local authorities in this way”.

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Mr Mackay said there was a “degree of cynicism” in the decision to end the council tax freeze in the year leading up to local government elections. Because there is no freeze imposed by the Scottish Government, councils will lose the compensation that was paid to them in lieu.

“We have been asking for an end to the council tax freeze for 14 years. To do it now is leaving councils in the position of either raising the tax by enough to cover the losses or else see further cuts in services. You might say there is a degree of cynicism in that”.

Mr Mackay’s views were echoed by COSLA’s spokesperson Councillor Gail Macgregor who said: “This budget represents a £100m cut to our core settlement before any other pressures such as National Insurance costs, pay or inflation are taken into account.

She added: “In terms of Council Tax, whilst we welcome the removal of the cap and recognition that this is a local tax that should be decided locally – we cannot put the burden of a poor settlement onto hard pressed families. That is simply not fair”.

Roddie Mackay said that “straight cuts” to the budgets of Scottish Government bodies including HIE and HIAL wouid also impact on island communities. He added: “They keep talking about this fund and that fund but anything they give to islands with one hand is taken away with the other”.

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP, Donald Cameron, said: “It is unbelievable that HIE, central to efforts to revive the regional economy after the ravages of the Covid pandemic, once again has had its budget cut.”

The latest HIE cut of £3.4 million is five per cent of their current budget. HIAL has been cut by 22 per cent while the Gaelic Capital Fund loses 21 per cent of its £3.8 million allocation in the current year.

Mr Cameron said: “Even funding for Gaelic has been reduced. This is a budget from a Scottish Government which has forgotten all about the Highlands and Islands.”

Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, “confirmed the investment of £51 million in rural services and islands, including activities linked to the islands plan and the introduction of an islands bond fund”. However there is no detail yet about whether this is ‘new money’.